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Operationalizing the Information Age, Knowledge Economy, 21st Century

Though only a few weeks into my doctoral work, I have already started to finalize the Problem of Practice that I plan to address through my applied dissertation. Based on my ongoing work with EdTechTeacher, I am exploring the scalability of high-quality, sustained professional development that would help teachers to design student-centric, inquiry-based, technology-rich curricula that would facilitate the development of the problem-solving and critical thinking skills required for success in the knowledge economy/Information Age/21st Century.   

My professors, in reviewing some of my initial work, issued a challenge. While I did my best to define all of those terms, I need to operationalize the concepts of Information Age, or Knowledge Economy, or 21st Century, or whatever term I choose to use so that it becomes more concrete. To compare these three terms, and try to see which might actually have more associated resources, I used the Google Ngram Viewer as well as the New York Times Chronicle to track their usage over time. Based on this analysis, I discovered that I would have a lot more success finding 21st Century versus Information Age or Knowledge Economy when conducting research purely based on the frequency of the term in Books and articles.

Chart created with GoogleNGram Viewer

Chart created with Chronicle

Information Age

In terms of historical and educational context, the idea of preparing students for the Information Age featured prominently in the 1984 A Nation at Risk report. According to Mehta (2013), A Nation at Risk intrinsically linked educational success to economic success and called for students to become globally competitive in a Postindustrial, Information AgeI have started to think of this term as a historical descriptor. Think about the concept of the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, or the Industrial Revolution. Each of these eras possessed unique qualities that manifested themselves within society, culture, economics, and education.

The Renaissance can be characterized by advances in art and literature. Assembly lines, mass production, and a migration to urban areas illustrate the Industrial Revolution. With the Information Age, individuals have started to move online, rapidly adopting new technologies and communication strategies that allow them unprecedented access to content and data as well as the ability to connect to individuals around the world.

Knowledge Economy

The Knowledge Economy, at least for my purposes, can then be viewed as the economic principle of the Information Age evolving from the advances in technology. In this new economy, "human work will increasingly shift toward two kinds of tasks: solving problems for which standard operating procedures do not currently exist, and working with new information-- acquiring it, making sense of it, communicating it to others" (Levy & Murnane, 2013). Combine these work requirements with the increasing globalization and connectedness of the Information Age, and new skills will be required if people hope to remain competitive in the marketplace.

21st Century

21st Century may be the most prolific buzzword as it encompasses both the concepts of Information Age and Knowledge Economy. Essentially, the 21st Century will be marked in time from January 1, 2000 until December 31, 2099. Within that time frame, the Information Age and Knowledge Economy will exist. 

Where the 20th Century was characterized by the end of the Industrial Revolution, the rise of Nationalism, and the dawn of the Digital Age, the 21st Century will possess its own unique qualities as it builds upon the tenets of the Information Age.

As evidenced by a recent report from the Pew Research Center, since the start of the century, Internet usage among Americans has increased from 52% to 84%, and adults between the ages of 18-49 have over a 93% adoption rate. As this younger demographic continues to drive the economy, and more early adopters enter the workforce, ubiquitous technology will become a hallmark at least of this first part of the century. Considering the fact that most people communicated via mail or telegram at the turn of the 20th century and by cellphone at the end, who knows what may exist by 2099. 

Operationalizing my Problem of Practice 

The 21st Century spans 100 years. Currently, it encompasses the Information Age - an era marked by rapid adoption of new technologies. This Information Age is being fueled by a Knowledge Economy that values problem solving and critical thinking over the rote skills of the Industrial era. That said, the 21st Century may also ultimately include other ages and economies that have not yet come into existence. For this reason, teachers need to help students acquire the critical-thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration skills that will benefit them as they enter the workforce. In order to successfully do this, teachers will need to shift their classroom practices. That shift will require professional development and support, which does not currently exist for a majority of K-12 public school teachers.

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